Waiting for Anna: Part Eight
The Ixi looks up from his book and nods, inviting her to speak.
Anna stands in front of his desk, clasping her little book of magic tricks in front of her. "I was wondering if you knew where I could get... one of these," she says, and flips through to find the page. "'A small vase, the top of which is closed but hinges open so that you can place a ball inside of it. A spherical ball, to be put inside of the vase and appear in the magician's pocket. For trick number twenty-one, Ball and Vase.'" She glances up at Biblius.
He sets down his book and takes off his spectacles, folding them idly. "Well. The Armory might be able to help you--ah, Robin is focusing on using cloth now, that's right. He still might have his forge somewhere, though. Or the Glaziers. They make all of the bottles for the Potionery, you know. And they can make different colors of glass, although they are all still somewhat translucent." The Ixi shrugs. "You'll have to ask around, I expect. Just let them know you're staying with me--most of them will have heard about you by now."
Anna frowns, and Biblius smiles.
"Brightvale is a small place," he tells her. "You'd be surprised."
The Aisha leaves the shop a few minutes later. A bag hangs from her shoulder with the book in it. She considers her walking stick, and then leaves it. It's more awkward walking without it, but she's tired of carrying it.
It's the middle of the afternoon, and Brightvalians are everywhere: families going shopping, children running around, elders sitting or standing, people on errands walking through the thin crowd. No one seems hurried or anxious about anything. Everyone is smiling, trading nods with friends and strangers.
Anna doesn't belong here, and she knows it.
She gathers up the ends of a shawl someone left in Biblius's shop years ago and wraps them more tightly around herself. Then she starts walking--slowly, so that no one notices her.
A few people greet her as they pass, and Anna nods and smiles nervously back. When she gets to the armory, the door is standing open, and there's a small line leading up to the counter.
Anna waits for her turn. The shop is filled with racks of clothing, and most of the others in the line are holding hangers. There doesn't seem to be any metal in the place, except for the brims of crowns. But a door is open behind the counter, and through that she can see an anvil and a slice of bellows.
The Draik standing at the register serves each customer quickly but nicely, asking after their families or their plans for their visit to Brightvale.
There's no one else ahead of Anna, but a few others have come in after her. Anna steps aside. "They can go first," she says. "I just have a question."
They pay and leave, and Anna steps up to the counter, conscious of his eyes on her. There are two or three Brightvalians browsing the shop, but no one is waiting to check out.
"So. What is it you want to ask?"
Anna fumbles out the book and turns it open. There's a drawing, which she shows him. "I was wondering--I'm staying with Biblius, at his shop, and I'm trying to learn magic tricks. I was wondering if you could make one of these for me."
The Draik--Robin, Anna realizes--pulls the book toward him and inspects the picture. "I suppose," he says slowly, "that it's possible. You would have to go to the Glaziers and get them to make you the ball. I would need a mold for that kind of thing, and I don't have one, but they should be able to do it well enough."
"You will, then?" Anna says, hopefully.
"Not so fast. There has to be some kind of trade." Robin looks up from the book and across the shop. Anna turns around to follow his gaze and sees the poster tacked up on the door. She must have seen it on her way into the shop, but it didn't quite register. It's in greens and yellows, more garishly bright than anything else she's seen in Brightvale so far, proclaiming the "Fifteenth Annual Brightvalian Talent Show!"
"It's quite the tradition," Robin remarks. Anna turns back to look at him.
"You want me to--"
"To enter the talent show, with your magic tricks, in exchange for making you this." He taps the book. "It's in two weeks; you have time to practice. It'll take me a couple of days to make it, but not too long."
Anna glances back at the poster, and then at him again.
"I only know basic tricks," she says. "With coins, handkerchiefs--things like that--"
"So learn some new ones." Robin smiles cheerfully at her. "Tell you what. I'll tell everyone in town to give you what you need to prepare the best possible magic act for the talent show."
Everything she needs. Anna asked Biblius to order a few more magic books just that morning, and they will be coming in two days. With those books and this promise, it will almost be worth it to get up in front of all Brightvale and do her magic tricks.
She is a little surprised to find that she's already decided she'll do it, but she knows best.
"All right," she says. "I'll do it."
The books come two days later, and by noon that day Anna learns the first trick. Most of them require nothing more than a few of Biblius's handkerchiefs or a coin or two, but a few require more complicated supplies, and as the days speed past Anna gets to know Brightvale.
She visits the armory to pick up her vase, and gets the Glaziers to shape her a ball out of scrap glass that fits perfectly inside of it. From the Scrollery she buys a deck of playing cards that a tourist lost there. The volunteers running the Coloring Pages stand give her pieces of paper and crayons, and Anna uses these to draw up her own magic tricks, remembering her days in the woods spent dreaming and practicing with leaves and what she thought magic looked like.
Anna knows better now what magic looks like, but that cannot be put onto paper, so the things she draws out are perfectly normal tricks, depending more on sleight of hand and fooling the eye than true power. She invents props for them, too, and walks out to the shops to ask for those.
She is surprised, in the middle of the first week, when someone greets her by name as she comes into the Armory. Too surprised to react or ask their name. By the beginning of the second week, she's gotten used to it, and recognizes a few people by sight, if not by name. When she mentions this to Biblius, he just smiles.
"It's good you're getting to know people," he says, and turns a page.
But in the second week Anna spends more time inside, practicing her routine. She knows the tricks, in her head and in her hands, and she could almost do them in her sleep.
The difficult thing, Anna knows, is the presentation.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" She stands in a back corner of Biblius's shop during the daytime, conducting tricks to a polite, if indifferent, audience of old books. Her gestures are grand, but not quite so grand that she would knock over the books. "Ladies and gentlemen," she tries. "Ladies, and gentlemen!"
She spends most of a day on the greeting before she gets it right. The next day she orders and reorders her tricks, practicing them first in one lineup and then in another.
The last few days before the talent show, Anna can hardly practice. She does, though. That's what it means to be a performer.
The day before the show, she asks Biblius to watch it. She realizes, as she finishes the last trick with a flourish, that she is anxious for his approval.
"Very nice," Biblius says, when he has finished applauding. "I think they will like it. You'll have some competition, though. We Brightvalians are a talented bunch--and I include you in that number, of course."
Anna smiles and thanks him. She sleeps restlessly that night, and wakes once. She stares up at the ceiling. The books surround her.
He said she was a Brightvalian, she realizes. That is what makes her uncomfortable. She's a Meridellian--isn't she? She can't be a Brightvalian too.
She's entered in their talent show for tomorrow. And she does like peace, and reading. Brightvalians like those things too.
But she is a Meridellian. Nothing can change that. She's still Anna. She didn't let Biblius change her name to Annabelle, did she? No. She didn't. Annabelle is too fancy of a name for her.
Anna from Meridell. That's who she is.
That's all she is.
Comforted, she goes quickly back to sleep.
To be continued...